To help ensure that consumers receive the safest, most effective medical attention available, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) offers the following DOs and DON'Ts for patients that wish to diminish their risk of skin cancer and those who may have already been treated by an unqualified practitioner and need to know what to do next:

DOs:

  • Do take measures to reduce the risk of skin cancer: The best approach to lower skin cancer risk is to: minimize sun exposure - especially between 10am - 4pm, wear sunglasses and protective clothing (e.g., wide-brimmed hats, long sleeves and pants), use sunscreen no less than SPF 15 with both UVA and UVB protection, and avoid artificial tanning devices.
  • Do recognize the A, B, C, D and Es of melanoma: Self examination is key in detecting skin cancer. To help sort out the difference between cancerous and non-cancerous spots, physicians often use the "ABCDE" method:
    • asymmetrical (uneven) shape
    • borders that are irregular
    • color that varies from one area to another
    • diameter larger than a pencil eraser. If you notice an area that fits one of these descriptions, consult your dermatologic surgeon.
    • evolving is any change in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting points to danger. If you notice a mole different from others, or which changes, itches, or bleeds even if it is smaller than 6 millimeters, you should see a Board-certified dermatologist
  • Do get a second opinion: Often patients feel as if they are offending their physician if they request a second opinion. However, it is important to realize that a physician who does not specialize in skin-related diseases may have limited experience in treating skin cancer, therefore placing your diagnosis in question and your overall outcome at risk. Most skin cancer is 100 percent treatable if detected early.ii

DON'Ts:

  • Don't ignore the signs of skin cancer: Sometimes what people may perceive as an annoying sore that won't go away, or a mole that has changed in size or color, is really something more serious and possibly an early form of skin cancer. Since only a physician can determine whether an area of the skin is cancerous, a visit to a dermatologic surgeon should be scheduled if any abnormal moles are discovered. An annual skin cancer screening is necessary to identify cancer in its early stages.
  • Don't forego a professional medical evaluation: Consumers, who are treated by unqualified practitioners without experience in treating the skin, may not be properly diagnosed for serious skin conditions, like skin cancer. In fact, many may experience complications from an unqualified "technician's" treatment recommendations, which may include removing an "innocent" freckle (that may in fact be cancerous) with laser resurfacing or microdermabrasion, possibly delaying appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Because some forms of skin cancer can be mistaken for freckles or moles, its best to always consult a dermatologic surgeon before undergoing any elective cosmetic procedure.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions: In order to understand the impact certain treatments may have on your health and in some cases, physical appearance, it is important to ask the following questions:
    • What are my treatment choices? Which do you recommend? Why?
    • What are the expected benefits of each kind of treatment?
    • What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment?
    • Will the treatment affect my appearance and normal activities?
  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation.
    http://www.fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts/ RadiationEmittingProductsandProcedures/Tanning/ucm116425.htm.;
    U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sun Protection.
    http://www.fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts/ RadiationEmittingProductsandProcedures/Tanning/ucm116445.htm
  2. American Cancer Society. 2009 Cancer Facts and Figures.
    http://www.cancer.org.
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